Agriculture Sustainability and Climate Change

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Early last year, the US government released the National Climate Assessment Report.  The report concluded that climate change is unequivocal and that agriculture will be on the front lines with those most impacted by its effect.

Climate disruptions to agricultural production have increased in the past 40 years and are projected to continue increasing over the next 25 years.  Producers and land managers will face increases in the frequency of extreme weather events which will cause significant erosion, runoff and nutrient losses, prolonged droughts; increased pressure from weeds, pests and diseases, and higher temperatures which will affect crop pollination and lower yields.

As bad as those challenges sound, farmers and ranchers currently have a number of strategies to adapt to the changing climate conditions.  These adaptation strategies include changing selection of crops, timing of field operations, and increasing use of pesticides to control increased pressure from pests and diseases.  Diversifying crop rotations, integrating livestock with crop production systems, improving soil health and quality, minimizing off-farm flows of nutrients and pesticides and other practices typically associated with sustainable agriculture also increase the resiliency of the agricultural systems to climate change.  Thus, an adaptation plan consisting of integrated changes in crop rotations, irrigation methods, and fertilization and tillage practices, may be an effective approach to managing climate risk.

However, other potential constraints to adaptation must be recognized and addressed.  In addition to the availability of critical basic resources such as land and water, there are potential constraints related to farm financing and credit availability.  Farm resilience to climate change is also a function of financial capacity to withstand increasing variability in production and economic returns.  As climate change intensifies, “climate risk” from more frequent and intense weather events will add to the existing risks commonly managed by producers, such as those related to production, marketing, regulation, and personal health and safety factors.

Although agriculture has a long history of successful adaptation to climate variability, the accelerating pace of climate change and the intensity of projected climate change represent new and unprecedented challenges to agriculture sustainability.

Mechanisms for adapting to and miti­gating climate change are important for continued agricultural production and stewardship of natural resources. New research, education, and extension activi­ties are necessary to increase the resilience of agronomic systems to climate change and to benefit from new opportunities that may arise.

By Wilma Trujillo
CSU Extension Agency

Filed Under: AgricultureBusinessCitycommunityCountyEconomyEducationEnergyEnvironmentFeaturedMedia ReleaseProwers CountyWeather


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